Talking intermarriage at JTS


From Julie Wiener of The New York Jewish Week:

The Conservative movement’s long war against intermarriage may be slowly drawing to a close.

For decades, as the Reform movement reached out, Conservative leaders stuck to a harder line, hoping that by doing so they could discourage Jews from marrying gentiles.

Today, as the once-dominant American Jewish movement faces shrinking membership rolls and new leadership, that hard line seems to be dramatically softening.

Some of the changes could be seen last week when, in a first for any Conservative seminary, the Jewish Theological Seminary hosted a two-day workshop “sensitizing” students to “issues of intermarriage and changing demographics.”

The optional workshop was run by the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, a group that has for the past decade advocated for more inclusiveness in the Conservative movement. Approximately 30 rabbinical, cantorial and education students participated, a number organizers say would have been considerably larger were it not for various scheduling challenges. …

Barry Holtz, dean of JTS’ William Davidson School of Education called the workshop “a groundbreaking moment at the seminary.” Once considered a bastion of traditionalism, JTS, which recently began ordaining openly gay rabbis and which came under new leadership in 2007, is, like the rest of the Conservative movement, in transition.

To be sure, the movement is hardly going Reform. It continues to see itself as guided by Jewish law, does not recognize patrilineal descent or allow its rabbis to officiate at interfaith weddings, and its approach to interfaith families varies considerably from synagogue to synagogue and region to region.

And intermarriage remains a touchy issue. While Rabbi Daniel Nevins, the dean of JTS’ rabbinical school, spoke at last week’s workshop, he insisted that all his comments remain off the record.

Many JTS faculty members — such as history professor and former provost Jack Wertheimer, who has published recent opinion pieces in Commentary and other Jewish publications on the topic — continue to speak out strongly against intermarriage.

Nonetheless, things have changed dramatically even from four years ago, when the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism issued its “Al Ha-Derekh” paper emphasizing the need to encourage conversion of gentile spouses and detailing what non-Jewish partners can and can’t be allowed to do in the synagogue.

Read the full story.

Recommended from JTA